Chuck Cliett was hesitant about going on a blind date with Jay Barth. Jay was just along for the ride. "I didn't know this would be an experience that would transform my life, but it obviously did," Jay says. "I was in vacation mode and did not expect to leave Austin [Texas] having met the love of my life."
Chuck went from reluctant to smitten in the flash of a smile on a blind date in August 2000.
The first time I saw my future spouse:
Jay says: “Superficial, but, ‘He’s cute.’ He has a truly amazing smile and his smile was the first thing I ever saw.”
Chuck says: “I thought, ‘I’m in.’ After an hour and a half drive, I knew how smart he was and I was smitten from the beginning.”
On our wedding day:
Jay says: “We had dinner at Seersucker restaurant in Brooklyn, and the chef was from northeast Arkansas. I just remember how happy that dinner was.”
Chuck says: “I remember the light in the room. It was late afternoon and it was sunny and probably had those types of windows that changed the light a little bit.”
My advice for a long happy marriage:
Jay says: “I think we get a lot of strength from our friends and our family. We have to rely on others.”
Chuck says: “One of our vows that we sometimes laugh about is patience. We struggle with that, but over the long haul one of the things we’ve focused on is that we’re teammates, in addition to being married and the loves of each other’s lives. We’re in this for a long haul.”
Chuck lived in Austin then, and a woman he had worked with insisted someone she knew from Little Rock would be his perfect match. When that someone -- Jay Barth -- arrived in Austin to visit a friend, she said he and Chuck just had to meet.
"She told me about Jay about a year before, when I was working with her, and then she called me up, kind of out of the blue, in the summer of 2000," Chuck says.
He almost said no, but his friend arranged to pick him up on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 26, and on that day, the group decided to take a road trip to the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch.
"I'm a big American politics buff and a big LBJ fan. And I had never been, and Chuck had never been either," says Jay, a political science professor at Hendrix University in Conway.
Jay didn't know much about Chuck, a lawyer who, incidentally, had just quit his job.
"I didn't stay unemployed for long, but I think that may have been one reason I thought maybe this wasn't the best time for me to go out on a blind date," Chuck says. "But the minute I got in the car I remember Jay turning around and kind of smiling at me. We started talking, and I was pretty smitten from the beginning."
In the presidential center's bookstore, they found entertainment in a biography of Barbara Bush.
"It's a particularly snarky autobiography, and it's got some great lines in it, where she's really being pretty mean to other people. It's quite hilarious. Chuck was picking out his favorite passages from that autobiography and reading them aloud, and we connected over that," Jay says.
They spent a good part of the weekend together, getting to know each other. Jay went home as scheduled but within a couple of weeks, Chuck made his first visit to Little Rock.
That November, Jay went on sabbatical, moving to Washington to work for Sen. Paul Wellstone as part of an almost yearlong congressional fellowship program. Chuck visited him there, going to art museums and restaurants and getting to know Jay's new friends. Jay visited Chuck in Austin, too, where they took in music.
When Jay returned to his tenured position, Chuck began studying for the Arkansas Bar exam, though he wasn't sure what he would do in Little Rock with his specialty in health insurance companies.
"I thought, 'Well, I'll never find that exactly,'" Chuck says. "So I started looking for work. And as it turns out, there's a law firm where I work now, Mitchell Williams, which is one of the larger firms downtown as a kind of specialty practice in insurance regulatory law. Professionally, there really couldn't have been a better move for me to come from Austin to Little Rock."
They bonded long-distance that year over conversations about the presidential race.
"It was in the days when everything was sort of newly online and we could sort of share an experience by looking at websites," Chuck says. "We'd go to Slate or Salon and look at tracking polls together and follow the presidential election."
Chuck moved to Little Rock in December 2002, and in May 2006, after getting to know each other across a few miles instead of across hundreds of miles, they bought a house together in the Governor's Mansion Historic District of Little Rock.
They hadn't really discussed marriage.
"I just assumed that I wouldn't be married," Jay says. "I didn't have, I don't guess, a particular interest in being married. It was just kind of something that was assumed not to be a possibility."
But on March 18, 2012, they exchanged marriage vows in Brooklyn, N.Y., in a ceremony officiated by Susan Herman. Herman, who hosted their wedding in her spacious brownstone, is president of the ACLU. Jay was serving on the ACLU's board at the time.
"Obviously the battle over marriage equality had really kind of gotten going, and most of that in the early years was in the state courts," Jay says. "But in the state of New York, the state Legislature did pass marriage equality, and I think we were particularly drawn to going to New York for that reason. That it had not been done by the courts, but it had been done by a legislative body."
Chuck and Jay had a blessing ceremony on April 12, 2012, at Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock, followed by a reception at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.
"Our New York wedding had been a pretty small affair with just family and some New York friends," Chuck says. "For our blessing down here we invited a larger circle of friends and family."
Jay and Chuck celebrate their relationship on the date they met, the day they married and the day their marriage was blessed.
"We're conscious of each anniversary," Jay says. "They each serve a different purpose."
Chuck says one of his greatest joys has been in developing a relationship with Jay's mother, who is closer in age to his sister than to his parents. "I've grown into that family, and they've just accepted me like I was their own blood," he says.
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Chuck Cliett (right) met Jay Barth after the two were fixed up for a blind date. Today, the couple celebrate that day as well as their wedding and blessing days.
High Profile on 10/06/2019
Print Headline: Friend's prodding leads to couple's lasting love